It’s been 30 years since The Silence of the Lambs was released, a film that introduced us to Hannibal Lector, a cannibal who became the archetype of a serial killer. The plot is based around his relationship with trainee FBI agent, Clarice Starling, sent to delve into Lecter’s mind in an attempt to find another murderer named Buffalo Bill. I rewatched it a few weeks ago, and was as gripped and chilled as the first time I saw it (as a teenager, clutching a pillow to hide behind).
In this fascinating interview with Tananarive Due for Vanity Fair the two stars — Jodi Foster and Anthony Hopkins — explain what it is that makes the film so powerful, even though “there’s really no blood and gore,” and Hopkins portrays Lecter as “a gentleman. He has finesse.” Their pride in the film is evident, and even decades later when still teased with one of the film’s most famous lines — about a certain type of wine and some liver — they don’t mind “because it’s just such a damn good movie.”
You talk about the relationship between Lecter and Clarice as a kind of courtship. One of the elements is revelation and honesty: “Okay, tell me your worst childhood story, and I’ll tell you what you want to know.”
HOPKINS: I’ve never admitted this publicly, but when I was in the Royal Academy, there was a teacher we had, a Stanislavsky method teacher, and he was lethal. He was very charismatic, and he was deadly. He would rip you apart. He would just take you apart intellectually. He’d just smirk, and he’d say, “No. Do it again.” His name is Christopher Fettes. He’s retired now. You’d do a piece, and he’d say, “Do it again. No.” I based it on him: “No, Clarice.”
This teacher had stayed in my conscience all my life. I got a phone call afterwards: “Tony, it’s a wonderful performance. Did you base that on me, by any chance?”
FOSTER: Lecter needs, wants, to be seen as human. And if you don’t see him as human, you’re going to get eaten. So I think there’s something really beautiful about the fact that they relate to each other’s humanity. When Lecter takes in Clarice’s pain, when he breathes it in, or he hears her story about the lambs, it’s not because it’s a story that’s filled with blood and gore. It’s a tiny story of pain. And to him, that’s what connection is.
HOPKINS: The only physical connection that Clarice and Lecter have is when she takes the case file and they touch fingers. That’s a talisman of some kind—of relationship, of love, romance, whatever, had it been a different world.